The Mad Ants’ first game at Memorial Coliseum in more than two weeks featured a raucous crowd and Kobe Bryant tributes.
Oh, and it had the greatest comeback in G League history, too.
The Mad Ants showed some Bryant-like determination, rallying from a 35-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Canton Charge 124-118.
Daxter Miles Jr. had 29 points, all in the second half, for Fort Wayne (14-15) in front of 3,719 fans. Stephan Hicks, a native of Los Angeles, had all of his 18 point in the second half, too.
The largest deficit ever overcome for a victory in a G League game had been 34 points by Lakeland over the Mad Ants in 2017. The NBA record is 36 points by Utah over Denver in 1998.
Alize Johnson, who was sent to the Mad Ants (13-15) from the NBA’s Indiana Pacers for the game, totaled 19 points and 19 rebounds to give him double-doubles in all nine G League games he’s played in this season.
Johnson’s reverse layup with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter gave the Mad Ants a 117-115 lead. A Miles 3-pointer put Fort Wayne up 120-116 with 1:14 left.
Canton (20-11) was paced by Tyler Cook’s 28 points.
The Mad Ants had played in Los Angeles, defeating the South Bay Lakers 149-124 on Jan. 25, the night before Bryant, the longtime Los Angeles Lakers star, died at 41.
A moment of silence was held for Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the other victims of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey wore a No. 24 shirt underneath his sport jacket. And Brian Bowen II, during a pregame address, reminded the fans to give their loved ones “big hugs, let them know that you love them, because you never know when it’s someone’s time.”
Johnson wore his usual No. 24, though some NBA players had decided to no longer wear 24 or 8, Bryant’s numbers with the Lakers. Johnson tweeted earlier in the week: “I plan to continue to wear 24 as a tribute of the great respect I will always have for him. No one has asked me to change, but if I’m asked I will without hesitation.”
The Charge made 16 of its first 23 shots to take a 39-25 lead, paced by Matt Mooney making 5 of 5 for 13 points. The lead was up to 46-24 after Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s layup with 8:36 remaining in the second quarter. Malik Newman’s 3-pointer made it 68-38 with 2:30 left in the quarter.
The Mad Ants were down 72-42 at halftime. Their previous high for points allowed in a half this season had been 69 points.
The deficit grew to 35 points. But the Mad Ants whittled away and got within 17, at 101-84, after Ben Moore had a putback dunk and Miles followed with a one-handed runner to finish the third quarter.
The Mad Ants kept on pressing and got within nine at 101-92 after Moore hit a free throw with 10:33 left in the fourth.
Hicks’ fallaway jumper, on which he drew a foul, cut the lead to 103-95 with 9:51 left in the game. A Johnson steal set up Miles for a layup that trimmed the deficit to 103-99 with 7:35 left.
Miles’ 3 from the corner tied it at 115 with 2:43 left.
The Mad Ants donned jerseys featuring polar bears to support the Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge, which is next Saturday.
The Mad Ants play host to Raptors 905 at 7 p.m. Monday in the Coliseum.